By Macneil Kalowekamo
A heap of round-shaped compressed wet blocks lie on a neatly laid sack on the ground, absorbing the sweltering heat from the afternoon sun in Nkhusu, a village in the south-east of Mchinji district in central Malawi.
After three to five days, these blocks will be as dry as a bone, ready to produce intense energy for cooking in selected households.
Armed with waste paper and sawdust, members of Nkhusu Youth Club in Mchinji are seeking gains in clean energy while at the same protecting the environment. With limited economic opportunities and rising poverty emerging as a persistent challenge in the area, the youth members feel that more can be done to reap from using clean energy sources such as paper briquettes.
“Many young people here were in danger of engaging in bad behaviour because they had nothing to do”, says Memory Lefati, chairperson for Nkhusu Youth Club (a grouping of 30 members) during one of the group's monthly meeting that often follows the briquette making exercise. “We are pursuing several income-generating activities that include village savings and loans and the making of paper briquettes to give young people opportunities in entrepreneurship.”
Currently, the group is utilising resources raised from paid piece work and its savings and loans to support school-going members with learning materials. Part of the resources also goes into boosting their briquette-making, which they are yet to start making monetary gains out of.
“We are just producing the briquettes for home use by members. But our plan is to take it as a serious business while conserving our environment.", Lefati says.
In a country whose majority population relies on fuelwood as a source of energy, Malawi’s forest cover is always in danger of decimation. According to the World Bank’s Energy Progress Report of 2020, almost 85 percent of Malawians do not have access to electricity, and the 15 percent who do, experience frequent blackouts. With many people turning to charcoal as a source of energy, and rising population putting pressure on the environment, the unsustainable extraction of natural resources will likely continue unabated.
Yet the same earth that was there 2 million years ago has not grown an inch!
This year, advocacy for World Environment Day (WED), commemorated on June 5, is trying to drive home the same message. The Only One Earth campaign for WED 2022 calls for communities across the world to celebrate the planet through collective environmental action.
The briquette-making by the youth in Nkhusu is one way of sustainably living with nature.
Fourteen-year-old Agatha is a member of the club -one of its youngest- living with a disability in her left leg, and often has difficulties with mobility. “The nearby forests are all depleted. Now people walk long distances to fetch firewood. With my condition, it is difficult for me to support my family with such a task,” she says.
“The briquettes are easily accessible and are helping us in restoring our nearby forests”, Agatha further notes, adding that she is grateful to World Vision for empowering her and her peers with skills in briquette-making.
Through its water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programme, World Vision is looking at youth participation as a poster child for an initiative in managing the environment through WASH, climate change and waste management linkage.
“Availability of groundwater is becoming a problem because of deforestation fuelled by charcoal production. Our WASH project is affected in such a way that during the drilling of boreholes, we always find little or no groundwater in some places”, explains Faith Magalasi, WASH Development Facilitator for World Vision's Bua-Mtete and Likasi Area Programmes in Mchinji. “Without trees or any vegetative cover, run-off is high and there is little or no recharge of groundwater.”
Through its WASH project in Mchinji, World Vision is training youth clubs in waste management as a sustainable way of managing climate change. So far, 231 youth have gone through this training with financial support from World Vision's South Korea and Taiwan Offices. Among the trained youth are 75 children registered under World Vision’s sponsorship programme. This intervention highlights the importance of youth participation in environmental management and policy towards preserving the natural home for future generations.
“We want to make sure that young people are also included in bringing change to development because they will heavily suffer in future if nothing is done to protect the environment”, Magalasi notes. Through the skills acquired in making paper briquettes, these young people are not only responding to climate change, but they are also taking care of the sanitation in their surroundings.
“We are addressing littering by making use of waste paper collected from schools, offices and people’s homes. While some people see paper as waste, we see money in the waste”, says Manasseh Jere, another member of Nkhusu Club.
The economic gains in the long-term may be enticing, but the ultimate goal still stands tall in the minds of these young people.
“This is our home. It’s our earth. As a future generation, we are in grave danger of bearing the cost of the current plunder to the environment. This frightens us a lot. We will commit ourselves as young people to promote a sustainable planet for everyone”, Jere concludes.